NHS chiefs in County Durham and Darlington say they are constantly trying to fill vacant posts in their A&E departments.

They also admitted they face a "real challenge" keeping waiting times down, especially as the impact of added winter pressures start to bite.

But despite some calls to ease this by reopening emergency care provision at Bishop Auckland Hospital, this option is not thought to be viable due to the other services that would need to be restarted to ensure patient safety.

“We don’t have a full complement of staff and we have active recruitment going on constantly,” said Joanne Todd, associate director of nursing at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT).

“We’ve been to Italy to recruit nurses, we’ve got active recruitment going on with nursing students and there’s a lot of activity going on to improve recruitment generally.

“If you’ve got an emergency department you have also got to have intensive care, so you then have the knock on effect of having to open a lot of other high level care settings.”

Ms Todd was speaking at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

The prospect of reopening Bishop Auckland’s A&E was raised by Labour councillor Heather Smith, a former doctor.

She added A&E pressures were a "hard nut to crack" nationally and claimed the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, had been forced to close its emergency department because of recruitment issues.

Dehenna Davison, Bishop Auckland’s Conservative Party candidate, has said she will fight to bring A&E back to Bishop Auckland if elected.

A report for councillors said CDDFT, which runs emergency departments at University Hospital of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital, had failed to meet its target of 95 per cent of A&E patients being admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

Ms Todd added: “There’s a real struggle, but we’ve had some additional winter funding to help with winter pressures.

“We know we’ve had a 9.8 per cent increase in attendance at A&E since April, compared to the same period last year.